Doctors who struggle with their mental health have a new, anonymous way to open up about it.
FCB Health New York has partnered with Sermo to create a forum on the platform where physicians can anonymously talk about mental health struggles. The idea is part of the Disappearing Doctors campaign, which aims to raise awareness and take action to reduce the number of physician suicides.
The effort was born from one startling statistic: about 400 physicians die each year from suicide.
“We spend so much time learning from doctors, talking to them, selling to them, educating them, but we rarely have paused and asked, ‘How are you?’” said Mike Devlin, EVP and executive creative director at FCB Health. “We wanted to jump in and find meaningful ways to address this issue. We brought on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Sermo to create places where doctors could talk. When it all came together, COVID-19 hit and the entire world realized that doctors are under siege.”
Disappearing Doctors is focused first on helping physicians feel comfortable talking about mental health and giving them spaces to do that. The campaign kicked off with a survey of doctors on Sermo. Within 48 hours, Devlin said, about 4,500 physicians responded saying that mental health care was an unmet need and people were not talking about it.
Sermo, the anonymous social media network for doctors, then created a space on the platform where users could discuss their own struggles.
“Folks had a chance to go to psychologists and psychiatrists to ask questions, but they always talked about their patients, not about themselves,” Devlin said. “We wanted to have a place they can go open up and share. We also put out content on how to open up and find counseling.”
There are many hurdles doctors face to seeking mental health care, like potentially losing their license, their insurance or their practice. Devlin said those professional pressures combined with the stigma around mental health can keep doctors from speaking up about their struggle.
FCB Health hopes giving doctors a place to talk will help tackle the stigma and normalize talking about mental health. The campaign is focused on reaching out directly to physicians to let them know this resource is available, but also has a general awareness effort.
“We wanted physicians to recognize there was something built for them by them,” Devlin said. “For general awareness, the reason we want to do it is not about getting attention on campaign, it’s to get word out to physicians from people they know, trust and love. We’re starting with not much promotion, mostly word of mouth and peer-to-peer.”
Going forward, the campaign has partnered with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to create a dedicated hotline or chat feature for physicians, like those created for people in the military or first responders.
FCB Health also wants to tackle some of the systemic issues that keep doctors from speaking up, like medical licensing or insurance barriers. The effort is putting together a medical advisory board to guide future action.
“It’s a complex problem and there are a lot of reasons why physicians are affected,” Devlin said. “Part of it is human, everyone has trouble admitting weakness and asking for help. The things that impact regular people, physicians are not immune to that. The problem is that they are the healers, so how do we heal the healers?”